Toyota Racing – NCS Playoff Media Day Quotes – Denny Hamlin – 08.31.23

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Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to media as part of the NASCAR Playoff Media Day.

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota Camry TRD, Joe Gibbs Racing

Where do you feel like your team is positioned for the Playoffs this year?

“I think the team has got better all-around speed than what they’ve had in a while. I think that first year Next Gen we knew that we were good on the big tracks, we weren’t good on the short tracks and road courses were awful, right. We’ve shown we can win and have speed at all tracks this year so that’s something we haven’t had, even though we’ve made it to the final four so many years. We still have more overall speed at all types of race tracks where honestly you can get to the final four, but if you don’t have speed in Phoenix it doesn’t matter, and I think we will.”

Is this your year?

“It’s always my year.”

Do you like your chances this year with the field so wide open?

“I do. I think that we’re stronger than we’ve been. Road courses I’ve got speed now and short tracks our cars – if we get to the final four, I’m not worried about being at a deficit. I think the pit crew is better, they’re coming into its own. All the pieces of the puzzle are there. There’s no excuses for sure.”

Is your toughest competition within JGR?

“I think so. I think Martin (Truex Jr.) is certainly — he’s a talented dude. He can sometimes put in about a quarter of the work I do and still outrun me. He’s just a gifted race car driver and he’s always tough. That’s why he’s a champion.”

How impressive were Christopher Bell’s walk-off wins in the Playoffs last year?

“Super impressive. He (Christopher Bell) needed to win I think twice to advance one round and then get to the final. One certainly came at my expense, but yeah, it was super impressive no doubt about it. And certainly, probably built some character for him for these Playoffs that he’s prepared for it now.”

How difficult is it for a driver to know they’re in that position but then pull it off?

“I wouldn’t know. I’ve been trying for a while. I have been in the win or go home situations. Phoenix in 2019 we had to win, and we did to get to the final four, but I don’t know. I think it’s so circumstantial. It’s just a race and you just never know what can happen in a race. You just hope to have a shot at it. Again, if I keep putting myself in the final four, I’m eventually going to have a really good shot at a championship. I just feel like all the – whether it be pit crew, whether it be speed of the cars is all put together a little bit more than in year’s past.”

What are you looking to do when you get to these tracks in the 10 final races?

“I guess what you’re saying is well then, what do I have to do? The way I see it is, I know specific little areas where I need to get better that has cost me opportunities. Late race restarts and things like that. Things I can work on to get better. Certainly, I look in the mirror as much as anyone. I’ve got all the pieces of the puzzle together to win a championship. My teammates have won championships in the past years, so I need to do better. I think that I’m more prepared now and more experienced. I feel like I’m honestly as fast as I’ve ever been. I’m confident.”

Do you believe that luck plays a role in this?

“I’m very vague with the word luck. I think a lot of it is things that are out of my control, right? Again, you guys have covered the Playoffs when my roof hatch has fell off, my ignition fails at Martinsville. Just a lot of little things that happen. I’m trying to drive the car to the best of my ability, but luck is not the right word. It’s controlling what I can control, and I honestly feel like the last three shots that I’ve had at a title I’ve done everything that I could do. There’s nothing more I could’ve done. We just didn’t have the speed or the execution. I need to make sure if I get to Phoenix that I’m prepared, I’m as good as I possibly can be and sometimes it might not be good enough. Maybe there’s just someone a little bit better on that day and that’s okay.”

Is there anything from the wrecks at Daytona that you think NASCAR needs to change?

“As far as the wrecks, talking to the drivers in the chats we have, (Ryan) Blaney has taken the brunt of some tough ones and (Ryan) Preece as well, but they both said that they feel okay so that’s a good sign that it’s heading in the right direction. Certainly, from what we’ve seen, the crushing of the front of the 12 car is certainly a gain in what we’ve had in the past. I’m pleased with it. NASCAR has got to continue to look at it, but I’m certainly pleased with the progress that has been made. And it seems like the drivers who have been involved in it are pleased as well.”

Have you been consumed with your contract negotiations?

“I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire.”

Is it as close to being done as Joe Gibbs thinks it is to being done?

“I mean, I don’t have anything new to announce. I’m not trying to leak one way or another, it’s on to Darlington.”

Are you dealing with the same things as you were that you mentioned at Watkins Glen?

“Yeah, it’s trying to get all of the contracts done.”

Do you want to stay at Joe Gibbs Racing?


Have you started exploring other options if you don’t return to Joe Gibbs Racing?

“See that’s a play on words. That’s not nice. Why would you do that? (laughter) I have a race team. I always have options. If you’re just a driver, you are at the mercy of whoever will hire you. I will hire me.”

Could 23XI run three full-time cars next year?

“I mean, if an apocalypse comes, yeah.”

Is FedEx renewed for next year or will you find a partial sponsorship like you had this year?

“The relationship with FedEx has continued to be strong and they’re definitely going to be on the car next year. On the 11 car. I don’t know the details of it, but certainly we’re going to continue that partnership that’s been 20 years strong. I’ve got a great relationship – the 11, Joe Gibbs and FedEx. I’ve got a great relationship with all of them.”

How is the mental game of the Playoffs different than the first 26 races?

“I think it’s different for everyone. I think that, am I a person concerned with making the Playoffs every year? No. I haven’t been a bubble guy, right? I’ve been very blessed to not be. What I feel about the regular season, if I have a bad day is probably different than someone in lesser equipment. They’re going to fight for that bubble position just about every year. They value probably the regular season a lot more in the sense of when they have a bad day and ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve lost points. I’m not going to make the Playoffs.’ We’re just looking at it as there’s seven available points each and every week to gain and add to my Playoff bonus. Did we leave with some or not? That’s kind of the way that I look at it week in and week out. And then is do I close in on the regular season? Where am I at and can I gain points that way? Did I have a solid day? I guess I’ll always give 100%, but in the Playoffs, there’s just a little bit of extra that you’ve got to give that you focus on and historically the finishes – we get better in the Playoffs. We’ve peaked at the right time and we’re really running well everywhere. Our finishes have been really good. We’re executing good. To answer your question, I do think of the Playoffs differently, but some people may not because they’re in a pressure situation every week. Hey, the only way that I’ve got to get into the Playoffs is I’ve got to win, and this is another week that you check off that you didn’t win. It’s just different.”

Does your pressure start now?

“My pressure starts now, for sure.”

How much did it mean to 23XI that Bubba Wallace made the Playoffs?

“For him (Bubba Wallace), you can only go up from here. There’s only positives. He drove into the Playoffs in the top 10 last year. He finished 10th in points with that 45 car as if he was in the Playoffs. He knows what he’s capable of so now go do it for yourself. He did it for the team last year, now he needs to go do it for himself.”

Is it an odd balance for you being an owner and a driver in the Playoffs?

“Our team still – we still have two cars that are in the Playoffs, right? We’re giving Bubba (Wallace) the best equipment we can for him to succeed and we want to see him succeed just as much as we do Tyler Reddick. It really doesn’t make that much of a difference to us.”

How big of a shot in the arm was it for the people that work at 23XI?

“It certainly was big. I mean, to have in our third full season both cars. I cannot emphasize enough — a team that started from zero – scratch. It is really hard to beat the Gibbs’ and the Hendrick’s. It’s just hard. It’s really, really hard. People don’t understand how hard it is and so to accomplish what our team has accomplished in three years, I’m very proud of.”

How is the 23XI shop coming along?

“Very good. We’re looking to be on time and hopefully to start moving stuff in in December.”

How important was it for Michael Jordan to get both cars and Bubba Wallace into the Playoffs?

“Bubba (Wallace) was the foundation driver who helped start this team with myself and MJ. I think it was a big deal for him. He’s a big race fan. As you know, he travels to these races and he’s rooting on as much as anyone. Anyone that’s ever been in a suite with him, he’s commentating half the time that he’s watching the races. It’s fun to have a partner that’s like that that’s so invested in the sport and how successful his race team is. For him, he feels like he’s got three shots to win every weekend between myself and the two drivers. We’re increasing his odds.”

What can you take from Michael Jordan to win a championship?

“He’s got such a ferocity. He’s a person that he’s not trying to be anyone’s friend out there. He’s trying to do what’s best for him and for his team. I think you’ve seen kind of with my driving style lately, I’ve shifted into the more selfish mode and that’s just what you’re going to have to be because I’ve had to adapt. You’ve got to be a reptile in this sport. You can’t just be stuck in your ways. You have to adapt to what your surroundings are, and I feel like I’ve had to change my style a little bit and hopefully that pays dividends.”

What kind of conversation did you have with MJ after Daytona?

“He assaulted me on pit road first of all (laughter). We didn’t talk much about the business side of it at that point. I went and congratulated Bubba (Wallace) and then I had to come back to stand at my car for 15 minutes to wait for you guys to come and ask us questions (laughter). I wasn’t able to be part of that whole corral. That was Bubba’s moment. I just wanted to go over there and quickly say thank you and let him be because it’s about Bubba and his accomplishment of making the Playoffs. Again, the light needed to be on him.”

Did he text or call you afterward?

“Yeah, we talk about business a lot on the daily. We talked last night. I was in the middle of something and got a call. We always talk and certainly his interest in this team has grown obviously since selling the Hornets.”

Do you feel safe now that the future of this sport is strong now that people like you and Brad Keselowski are team owners?

“Yes, I think that it was a little bit easier probably from my standpoint being partners with Michael (Jordan). He hadn’t already established a team and had been running it a certain way. He relied on me to run this team and hire the people that we needed to competition-wise to run it a certain way that I deemed would be successful. (Brad) Keselowski needed a buy in from his partners that let him have a little more of the reins on the decision making and let’s see if it bears fruit which it has. I think we were very fortunate to come in this sport when we both did. During Next Gen, I started a team from scratch, and I was able to form the organization different, like the way our teams work is dramatically different than the four-car or three-car teams. It’s just way different in how we run our organization, but that was because we didn’t have a legacy that we had been doing things for decades and decades. That was the advantage of coming in late like we have.”

Has there been a moment this year where the team has really missed Kyle Busch?

“No, but that’s no disrespect to Kyle (Busch). Don’t twist it now to make it sound like I am, but the answer is no because I’m so focused on myself and 23XI sitting beside me in those Joe Gibbs Racing meetings. I feel like we’ve got some veteran presence in me and Martin (Truex Jr.) that we know what we’re looking for. And C. Bell kind of knows what he’s looking for now. Kind of the bringing along Tyler (Reddick) and Bubba’s (Wallace) is getting better, and Ty (Gibbs) is finding where he fits in and his information. No, because me and Martin are still there. I think if we both weren’t still there then probably. But, certainly from a results standpoint, he’s (Kyle Busch) has gone to another organization and won three races. He’s proving that he is Kyle Busch and one of the best this sport has ever seen.”

Why are we seeing three organizations being able to have significant turnarounds in such a short period of time?

“As much as I hate it, you’ve got to give a little credit to the Next Gen. The field is generally just tighter together. The advantage that the bigger teams had in aerodynamics, simulation, and all, it’s just not as big. So, there’s less to overcome than what there has been in year’s past. I’d say the Next Gen has made it easier to come in and compete.”

Is there more interest in what can happen here with people coming in from outside the sport?

“It can’t work unless you have significant sponsorships, and that model has not changed. We’re very fortunate to have the partners that we do at 23XI. That has allowed us to put in the resources that we have. If you’re a new team, you don’t stand a chance without sponsorship because the model has not changed.”

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